Self Stigma and Shame

Self stigma occurs when we lock up our feelings and thoughts about ourselves so nobody else can perceive them because we are afraid of what people will think. We believe our feelings are shameful and therefore we walk within a dark shadow on a circular road that never ends. We isolate, avoid eye contact, shut down, harm ourselves–both mentally and physically, we try to avoid the situations that would most benefit us and we go around in circles trying to climb out of this hell we find ourselves in, but to no avail because we won’t allow anyone else in. We sacrifice a life that could be full of possibility in order to avoid the shame we feel inside. It’s a vicious circle and can only stop when we say it stops. The saying, “In order to get what you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done” comes into play here. We have talked about the feelings/behaviour/thoughts triangle and this is where it can be extremely useful. Somehow we have to step out of the circle. We need to change the route. We need to attempt something different than what we’ve been doing. So, if we avoid eye contact, we need to try and make it. If we self harm, we need to put soothing cream all over our body. If we isolate, we have to call a friend and talk about the weather or a familiar, neutral topic. Maybe we finally ask for help and call a crisis line.

What we can’t do is stay on the same path; it is an endless circle, a dark, lonely infinity trail. The longer we stay there, the worse the darkness becomes and the harder it is to claw our way out. I’ve been there. A place where the shame is so debilitating I really wished I would die but I continue to pour it onto myself. The heaviness of it wears me down. Getting out of bed is nearly impossible. And if I do make it out, I park myself on the couch and stare blankly at the four walls as they close in on me. My mind is inundated with dark and scary thoughts like: I’ll never be good enough; I’ll never amount to anything; nobody will miss me; I’m a burden nobody wants; I’m a failure; I’m stupid; I’m pathetic. You know why I believe all of these thoughts? Because other people suffer too, but they can get out of it; they are able to right themselves; somehow they can find the strength to go on, why can’t I? What’s happened here is that I’ve shamed myself to death! I’ve compared myself to others who are not on the same path I am on. I’m mentally ill or in better words, I have a mental disorder. It is a medical disease. I am not my illness! You are not yours! These debilitating thought patterns are a symptom of the disease. They are like a crack in an x-ray that needs to be fixed. They are like high blood pressure or heart disease, diabetes or even cancer. Yes, Mental Illness can be as debilitating as cancer. It takes lives; it destroys lives; but, it also responds to treatment, like disease. Medication and Therapy can help, once the right cocktail is served up. It is up to us to take that first step towards recovery. That first giant leap. As it is also up to others who struggle with disease to go to the doctor, get checked out, research online. We need to do it without fear of what others will think and that is possibly the hardest part of living with this illness. The self-stigma causes us shame and we can go untreated and unheard. Let’s make a difference in our own lives and stand strong against this stigma. You are worth it. You can shine. You are special–just like everyone else!

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